The Toronto Raptors took another significant step towards achieving the continuity that GM Masai Ujiri so often talks about earlier this week when they retained their entire staff of coaching assistants from last season. But with free agency still over a month away, the team’s attention has immediately been refocused on the upcoming NBA Draft and selecting someone who can contribute as soon as possible.
Luckily for the Raptors, owning the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft class doesn’t necessarily mean having to settle for a project with minimal upside and limited experience. Nevertheless, it’s still likely to take Ujiri’s keen eye to identify the right fit, and there are a few players who should be on Toronto’s radar.
Realistically, it would be a huge surprise if Michigan State‘s Adreian Payne was still available when the Raptors made their first pick, and NC State‘s T.J. Warren is also likely to be taken earlier than the experts have projected.
But UCLA‘s Kyle Anderson is a possibility, and with a 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame, the former Bruin definitely has the size to hold his own in the NBA. Coincidentally ranked 20th by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Anderson averaged 14.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game last season against formidable college competition, and registered 14 double-doubles in his final year of Pac-12 basketball. More importantly, Anderson approached similar numbers as a freshman, and the added year of NCAA experience will make a big difference in training camp and throughout his first season in the league.
At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, former North Carolina Tar Heel P.J. Hairston also brings some decent size to the table, and the small forward showed a ton of promise during his two years in the ACC prior to having a rare opportunity to play in the NBA’s developmental league this past season.
In 26 games with the D-league’s Texas Legends, Hairston averaged 21.8 PPG with 3.5 RPG. And while his numbers on the glass need some work, his quality outside shot coupled with the fairly seamless, mid-season transition he made from the NCAA to the D-League indicates his ability to adapt under pressure while making him an attractive NBA hopeful.
Of course, Hairston only landed in the D-League after a troubled existence in college, and some feel that the competition he faced following his time in the ACC can’t hold a candle to NCAA basketball. But that’s the risk involved in the draft, and choosing to play with Texas has definitely helped Hairston prove that he’s focused on basketball.
Historically, the Raptors have taken some huge risks on unproven big men in the draft, and could still choose to select a guard. But with Jonas Valanciunas and hopefully Patrick Patterson to build around, the play of Amir Johnson on the decline, and capable guards already in place, now is the time to draft the next piece of Toronto’s low-post puzzle.